Becky Johnson, one of the Santa Cruz 11 and an organizing member of HUFF, gave a wonderful speech at our Speakout + Rally on April 6th on local homeless issues and conditions in Santa Cruz County Jail. Below is the transcript, audio and video are coming soon:
When President Dwight D. Eisenhower left office in 1961, he warned “Beware the Military-Industrial Complex.” Today, it’s “Beware the Prison-Industrial Complex.” For prisons today have become big business in a country where manufacturing generally is suffering & unemployment rates are high.
Santa Cruz County is no exception.
For a jail to be profitable, it must be full. Nevermind that it’s paid for with taxpayer dollars. Our electives & appointees don’t care. For them, it is a job security program for police, judges, bailiffs, deputies, file clerks, probation officers and attorneys.
I myself have been fodder for this system with my “criminal” career: I am a convicted sidewalk hopscotch chalker, criminal songster, & in the case of the Santa Cruz Eleven, a suspected sign-holder & blogger. But what I want to talk about to you today is the criminalization of homelessness.
Currently in liberal, progressive Santa Cruz it is illegal to sit on a sidewalk less than 14 feet from a building. It’s illegal to sit on a park bench with your feet up. The Sleeping Ban, MC 6.36.010 section a, outlaws the act of sleeping anywhere out of doors or in a vehicle between the hours of 11PM & 8:30AM within the City Limits.
A separate provision outlaws the use of a blanket between 11PM – 8:30AM out of doors. Hacky-sacking, hop-scotching, and tossing your car keys to your husband are illegal acts on Pacific Ave., the shopping-Mecca where all the City Council members friends have stores.
Let me tell you about Gary Johnson, a homeless man, and an activist. Gary was arrested 4 times within 3 days for BEING on the County property in front of the Court House after 7PM. He was charged with trespassing. When he pointed out that he had a sign which said “A legacy of Cruelty MC 6.36.010 a, PC 647 ( e )”
and that the trespassing code has an exception for “traditional public forums,” the DA turned around and charged him with misdemeanor illegal lodging. He was sentenced to 2 years in jail for these 4 acts of sleeping. Recently he lost his appeal of the sentence before Judges Symons & Burdick.
What homeless person can pay a fine of $162 for sleeping in a cardboard box? None of them. And the authorities know this. But, they can bill you and me for the salary of the police officer who cited or arrested them. They bill for the time the officer spends in court. They bill for any public defender, but with most infraction crimes, the person charged has no right to one.
This jail is full of homeless people! And many who were marginally housed when they were arrested, will be homeless upon their release.
The Drug War fuels many of these arrests. So do mandatory minimums and the 3-Strikes law. But we could cut down on a HUGE amount of local incarceration if we repealed a whole-host of laws which frankly are selectively enforced against the poor and homeless.
When I spent the night here in “G” Dorm in County Jail, I met women there who should NOT have been there. There was one woman, so mentally-challenged that the other inmates had to tell her to put her underwear on. One mother of four with chronic intractable pain from a car accident, was jailed for the crime of supplementing her inadequate pain relief with heroin.
In jail, despite a known diagnosis of chronic intractable pain due to past injury, for which she had been treated with addictive pain medications, she was forced to quit “Cold Turkey”. Her only relief were hot showers. One day, in serious pain, she was pulled from an “unauthorized” shower dripping wet & thrown into an icy holding cell. While in there, she watched as deputies watched “prison porn” on their monitors where women prisoners were tormented & sexually abused.
Another woman was serving 3 months of a 6-month sentence for assault when she herself was assaulted by three women in Jade Street Park after hours. The women beat her over the head with a frying pan (she showed me the scar on the top of her head). They stole her laptop computer. As they fled the park, she called 911 on her cellphone. Police and an ambulance arrived while the three women were still in the area. Terry, the only injured person, was sent to the hospital.
She was arrested in the emergency ward. The three women had convinced the police that Terry had attacked THEM! When by pure chance, her brother’s roommate was able to buy her laptop back (the smoking gun) the DA ignored it.
Since she was still charged with felony assault, Terry was forced to plea “no contest” to a misdemeanor. Judge Adrianne Symons ok’ed that one.
Another form of abuse is the arbitrary nature of what charges are filed and what the how much bail is set. When Gabriella Ripley-Phipps was arrested in December of 2011 for basically protesting the destruction of the Occupy Santa Cruz encampment, she was charged with “obstructing an officer” and bail was set at $25,000. When shooting suspect, Jeremy Goulet was arrested for breaking into his female co-workers home and sexually assaulting her in her own bed, his bail was set at $250.
In the case of Kenneth Massei, the man who was falsely arrested for stealing flowers from the memorial for the 2 slain police officers, bail was set at $5000. He was forced to spend 18 days in jail here until his attorney showed the receipt for the flowers that he had in his possession when he was first jailed.
Isaac Collins, the only person arrested last year at the UCSC 420 event, was jailed here for 82 grams of chocolate & butterscotch brownies that tested positive for marijuana. Collins is black. The deputy that arrested him said he picked Collins out of the large crowd of pretty much all-day law-breaking because “he was wearing a very colorful shirt.”
So in conclusion, we need to End the Drug War! End the war on the poor! End mandatory minimums! End 3-Strikes! Repeal the Sleeping Ban, Blanket Ban, and laws which were written and are enforced specifically to be used against homeless people. Justice demands that we don’t stop until this work is done. Thank you.